After a third Stanley Cup championship in the last six seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks have gone through a difficult offseason. Similar to the post-2010 timeframe, the salary cap has resulted in pieces, both big and small, of a title-winning team being shipped off or simply not re-signed. It’s a frustrating reality of the current NHL era, at least from Blackhawks fans’ perspective. Though it is one the fan base should take in exchange for championships.
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But a bit of good news did pop up today regarding a player the Blackhawks seek to keep around for the immediate future. Fourth-line center Marcus Kruger, who has been more or less at the center of Chicago’s offseason conversation following the departures of Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya and others, apparently has offered a little assistance to General Manager Stan Bowman and company when it comes to working out a new contract.
According to Chicago Tribune Chicago Blackhawks beat writer Chris Kuc, Kruger would be willing to sign a short-term deal with the team if Bowman is unable to clear more cap space by “later in August.” Kruger would likely be more comfortable with a longer-term setup, though we’re probably talking three years for long term and a single year for short term. Still, job security is job security, no matter who you are.
The Blackhawks’ front office is probably pleased to hear this, though Kruger is a restricted free agent and was very likely returning to Chicago regardless of what type of deal he signed. But it’s well known Bowman will need to move at least one body if he wants to sign Kruger at all. The Blackhawks are currently under next season’s $71.4 million salary cap by less than $400,000, according to Hockey Buzz. Just a shot in the dark, but Kruger probably won’t be re-signing with the team on a one-year, $400,000 deal.
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What exactly Kruger is worth is a topic for debate, as he isn’t your typical forward. He wins a good amount of faceoffs, checking in with a 53.3 percent success rate in 2014-15. He’s also proven to be a very adept checking-line player, most recently teaming up with Andrew Shaw and Andrew Desjardins to wreak havoc on the Anaheim Ducks and Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup playoffs. A lot of forwards, however, are paid for their scoring. Kruger isn’t a big offensive threat, but he’s very valuable to Chicago in the ways we’ve just mentioned. He’s due for a raise from the $1.325 million cap hit he generated last season (salary of $1.4 million). But what’s the final number per year? $2.5 million? $3 million?
The patience from Kruger and his camp is nice to see. However, the onus is entirely on Bowman at this point to get something worked out. There’s little doubt he’s been trying to move some guys since the recent draft, but the market for Bryan Bickell and Kris Versteeg, as well as guys like Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp and Ryan Garbutt, probably isn’t too lush with desirable returns. The Blackhawks are currently loaded with forwards and are trying to re-sign one more in Kruger, so don’t expect Bowman to simply move Bickell or Versteeg and call it a day, unless he really plans to send to Rockford some of the guys mentioned above.
The latest chatter around Kruger also brings up an interesting point that has previously been discussed by the guys at The Committed Indian. None of the league’s 29 other teams want to help the Blackhawks stay in Stanley Cup contender shape. So why has no one thrown an offer sheet in on Kruger to force Bowman’s hand? San Jose did this to perfection in 2010 when they offer sheeted Niklas Hjalmarsson while it was well known the Blackhawks were going to need to let some guys go. Bowman made the right choice that year, matching the sheet on Hjalmarsson and eventually parting ways with Antti Niemi, who would go on to play for the Sharks until his recent trade to Dallas.
Saad’s departure was and still is centered around the idea that some team, whether it was Columbus or another, would offer sheet Saad and leave Bowman with little in return when he couldn’t afford to match it. Of course, Kruger isn’t Saad, but the idea of offer sheeting Kruger with a focus of dinging the Blackhawks just a little more in an already rough offseason has to have gone through at least one opposing general manager’s mind.
It’s all something to stay tuned on, but we can at least say the latest news on the Kruger front is good news.
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